For the first time since the Maratha agitation started, Union minister Ramdas Athawale, a prominent Dalit leader in the state, has blamed the Marathas for misusing the Atrocities Act. He said Dalits, especially those in rural areas, are being used as pawns by the dominant Maratha community to settle personal scores through this act.
The Maratha community has been organising massive shows of strength in the past few months demanding that the act be amended as it is misused by Dalits.
Athawale — Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment — said Marathas misuse the act especially during local self-government elections. “When Marathas need the support of Dalit winners after the Gram Panchayat election results, they win them over through various means. With the help of their Dalit supporters, the Opposition then files false atrocities cases against the Maratha winners of the ruling parties,” said Athawale.
The minister said the law was misused largely by political players who dominate state politics. Though he said he was concerned about this, he was vague about what could be done to avoid it. “We will seek suggestions from the Marathas and will work on them. I stand for the innocent Marathas,” he said.
He also ruled out amendments to the Scheduled Caste and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act framed by the Union government in 1989. “We will not amend this act just because the Marathas demand it. There has to be a bill introduced in the parliament,” he said.
Athawale has also demanded a constitutional amendment to ensure 75% reservation as the recent announcement of reservations for Marathas may not hold up under judicial scrutiny due to the cap of 50%. Athawale said the extra 25% could accommodate others such as Brahmins, Rajputs, Jats and Patels.
The 1989 act — introducted to prevent atrocities against members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe — was blatantly misused to harass the other castes. Former Union minister Sharad Pawar and Maharastra Navnirman Sena (MNS) leader Raj Thackeray supported the Marathas demand for a review of the act.
Athawale — who heads the largest Dalit faction of the Republican Party of India (RPI) — changed his opinion, allegedly due to pressure from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “The Maratha agitation is worth emulating as it has been carried out peacefully,” he added. Just last month, he criticized it, saying the agitation was spreading fear among Dalits. He also =announced counter-morchas at three places. They were called off. Later, he announced a Maratha-Dalit joint convention on October 19 at Shirdi.